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A Conversation on Directing Opera

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2021


Katie Mitchell has been directing opera since 1996, when she debuted on the operatic stage with Mozart and Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni at the Welsh National Opera. Since then, she has directed more than twenty-nine operas in major opera houses around the world. Mitchell here speaks of her directorial approach when working with the genre, addressing various aspects of interest for those who want a better grasp of the dynamics of opera-making in the twenty-first century. Ranging from the director’s imprint, or signature on the work they put on the stage, to the relationships forged with people running opera institutions, Mitchell reflects on her experiences when staging opera productions. She sheds light on some fundamental differences between theatre-making and opera production, including the issue of text – the libretto, the dramatic text, and the musical score – and the very basic fact that in opera a director is working with singers, that is, with musicians whose attitude and behaviour on stage is necessarily different from that of actors in the theatre. Running throughout the conversation is Mitchell’s commitment to ensure that young and contemporary audiences do not see opera as a museum artefact but as a living performative experience that resonates with the aesthetics and political imperatives of our contemporary world. She speaks of the uncompromising political imperatives that remain central to her work ethic, even if this means deserting a project before it starts, and reflects on her long-term working relations with opera institutions that are open to new and alternative approaches to opera-making strategies. Mitchell underlines her respect for the specific rules of an art form that, because of its collaborative nature, must allow more space for theatre-makers to venture within its complex performative paths if it wants to secure a place in the future. Mario Frendo is Senior Lecturer of Theatre and Performance and Head of the Department of Theatre Studies at the School of Performing Arts, University of Malta, where he is the director of CaP, a research group focusing on the links between culture and performance.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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